Category Archives: Opinion

Training in a time starved life

It’s been absolutely ages since I’ve written a blog and a lot has happened since I was easing myself back into training; I’ve bought a house and am just about to move into it, I’ve finished my last ever job on medical wards and moved to A&E (more on that later!) and there’s been varying amounts of swim, bike and run thrown in.

Since my rota changed in August to become more hectic, I’ve had to be more careful than ever before to be able to fit training in, recover from it, and still do all the other things in life I need to do. Since training in a time-starved life is something most people have to deal with, I thought I’d share how I’m making it work for me.

Having a plan

I’ve been listening to the Purple Patch Podcast (which I would highly recommend), where top tri coach Matt Dixon shares his advice on how to fit training into a time starved life, and one of his key tips is to plan carefully. Specifically, he recommends planning your week’s training, and deciding in advance which sessions are key, important training sessions, and which are general supporting sessions. So in a week my key session might be my tempo run session or my long run, whereas a supporting session is something like a short easy recovery run. By doing this, I know exactly which sessions to prioritise so that I can make sure they get done, and which sessions can be scaled back or missed completely if life gets in the way- as it often does.

Prioritise quality over quantity

Last year, training for the Lakesman, I was able to clock hours and hours of training, when I wasn’t working nights or weekends. I could swim three times a week, ride up to 100 miles at a weekend and run plenty. This year’s training so far looks very different- when time starved, I’ve had to prioritise quality sessions. So long rides have been swapped quite often for sweetspot power sessions on the turbo, multiple slow drill swims have been swapped for less frequent tri club swims where a coach can watch my form and I work HARD, and I’m running 3 times a week, with a focus on quality miles as I prepare for the London Marathon in April.

Accept that some days, training just ain’t happening
Now I’ve been working for over two years, I’ve learned what shifts work for me to train around, and which ones simply don’t, and instead of trying to force it now, I plan my training to take into account my life load during the day. So if it’s a long day or a night shift, which is pretty intense, I’ll either take a rest from training, or it’ll be a short, fairly easy session. And then I save the harder or longer sessions for when I’ve got a bit less on my plate. There are days too, where work turns horrendous, or something goes wrong, where I just accept now that the extra rest will do me more good than trying to force a session.

Have a plan for nutrition
Chicken satay stir fry
I know one of the best things I can do to stay strong and healthy, and keep my immune system firing to ward off the hundreds of nasty germs I encounter every day, is to fuel myself properly. I’m a long-term fitnaturally fan, but when they launched eatnaturally for athletes it was a game changer: the plan lays out food options for before or after sessions, and rest days or meals where no training has happened nearby, and means that even if plans change, I have a good idea of what to eat to be well fuelled for my sessions and recover from them, without spending a fortune or surviving on processed gloop out of sachets.

Don’t try to do everything at once
Triathlon training at times feels like a challenge of spinning plates, and it’s quite rare all three disciplines can be going well at the same time- so this winter I’ve stopped aiming for that, and at any one time am only actively pushing to improve one or possibly two disciplines. So whilst I’m working on running for London, I’m keeping swimming and cycling more on the back burner, so after London I can dial back the running a bit, up the swimming and cycling a little and arrive at Outlaw Half in good shape for all three. Hopefully!

So these are my tips for training in a time-starved life- what are yours?

Doing downtime for once

At the end of¬†a busy race season, it’s all too easy to try to carry on a roll from where you were. To try and stretch out that streak of productivity, that feeling of being super fit, for just a bit longer.

After the Berlin Marathon, it was painfully obvious to me that I needed a break. Not just an easier ‘recovery’ week of training, but a proper, no training, end of season layoff. I ran well in Berlin, far exceeding my expectations, given the second half of my season was significantly more relaxed after the Lakesman. I trained how and when I fancied, and raced a birthday 70.3 just for the hell of it. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this season I’ve raced three half marathons, two marathons, one iron-distance tri, one 70.3 and an open water swim race!

I crossed the line in 3:52:59 in Berlin, and was happy to end my season on a high there. The rest of our time in Berlin featured beers, burgers and brunch, and was a nice way to chill for a day or two before hurtling headlong into a very busy spell of work. Work, in fact, was so busy I literally took two weeks completely off any exercise at all, before getting gently back into things with a weekend away with the other Specialized women’s ambassadors.

We spent a cracking weekend in Longleat, where with much persuading and support from the gnarly girls of the group, I had my first ever go at riding MTB, which was a huge amount of fun, despite being scary, and 100% something I want to do some more of at some point. We also went for a road ride and photoshoot, where we genuinely looked like a pro team ūüėČ

Given I also managed to break my toe on a child’s water flume at the Center Parcs we stayed at (don’t ask), my grand return to training hasn’t been quite as grand as I had planned. But sometimes that’s okay; it’s so easy to forget how much we’re asking of our bodies, to stay strong and healthy and consistently perform well, even when we heap hours and hours of training on top of a hectic work life.

So my autumn has looked a little less focused than I’d planned, but it’s been brilliant (when I’ve not been at work!). I’ve celebrated having been with James for three excellent years of adventures and cake munching. I’ve had an offer accepted on my first house. I’ve spent time with loved ones and recharged my training batteries, even if the work batteries are pretty empty at the moment. And now, after that rest, I’m really enjoying being back in semi-structured training, with turbo sessions, gentle runs through the autumn leaves and getting back in the pool to remember how to swim.

Sometimes a rest is better than a change, eh?

Halfway to ironman & lessons learned

I always learn a lot from a race build up, but training for long-distance triathlon has been the steepest learning curve so far. I’ve been training since late November, and now find myself just 3 months out from race day. As Cathy said when ironing in her blog, by now we’re in spring marathon season, people are finishing their big miles and starting to taper; I’ve got a spring marathon in the calendar (hi Paris!), but my eyes are on the big prize in Keswick in June, so my biggest miles have yet to come. With 3 months to go though, I thought I’d share 10 things I’ve learned from ironing so far…

Early starts are your best friend
I know I’m kinda late to the party here, but whilst I have a job that allows 9am starts with a swimming pool nearby, I’ve been doing the majority of my swim sessions before work. I might land at my desk with a swishing sound in my left ear, quite impressive goggle marks and RAGING hunger, but it’s pretty satisfying having ticked off a decent training session before the day has even properly begun, and before life has got in the way. Makes those pesky 5.30am alarms worth it, even if for the first few minutes of being awake I’m cursing this sodding ironman.

There is a difference between tired legs and injured legs
I don’t think I’ve trained on properly fresh legs since November. No joke. It’s not possible to get in enough training and have fresh legs all the time, but it’s made me learn the difference between tired, achy legs, and legs that are becoming injured. 9 times out of 10, it’s not a brewing injury, it’s just my body reminding me to stretch my bloody quads and hip flexors for once, and I can train on through.

You’re not always going to want to do the training
I can think of a lot of days this winter where I’ve¬†really¬†not wanted to get out training. Yorkshire is beautiful, but when it comes to cycling, it’s frequently cold, windy and full of bastard hills, and James has had to give me a tough word to get out and get the miles done. The same goes for brick runs, and a couple of times I’ve had to have a word with myself to actually start running off the back of a long bike ride where I’m frozen to the core. When training more than you’ve ever trained before, you’re not always going to love it: sometimes it’s just a case of gritting your teeth and getting it done.

Swimming and biking help with running
Before Brighton, my half marathon PB was set when I was purely running, knocking out 40+ miles a week. I was surprised that in Brighton, on less fresh legs and with only about half the miles in my legs over 2-3 runs a week, I was able to run faster and stronger. Whilst I think part of it is learning to suffer (max heart rate tests are good for this), I do think the overall training volume has helped my running.

It’s expensive. Like, really expensive.
There is always a new expense around the corner with so much training, whether it’s broken goggles, worn out trainers, inner tubes for the bike or gels and bars to keep me powered up hills- and that’s before we even start on accidental Lululemon and Rapha purchases to motivate myself out of the door in the grimmest of conditions, race entries and travel and the sheer amount of coffee and peanut butter I’m getting through. But y’know, my social life is pretty cheap to balance it out, since I’m ALWAYS training, eating or sleeping. Oh, and working too.

Getting some help is a really good idea
A coach is by no means an essential, and if you have a regular, predictable life, a training plan from a book will probably work pretty well. For me though, with a job with fairly unpredictable hours, planning and actually sticking to it can be tough, and I end up looking at Strava, wondering if I’m doing enough or the right thing. I also find that when planning for myself, one discipline will be going well whilst the other two fall to pieces- so I enlisted the help of a coach in Chris, and it’s been a great investment. It holds me accountable, pushes me through sessions I’d never set myself, and reins me in when I’d otherwise overdo it.

You cannot put in that volume of training without fuelling properly
Almost every time I’ve felt terrible, been performing badly or been a nightmare to be around, I can trace it back to not fuelling properly. Cycling so slowly I’m practically going backwards? Probably haven’t taken on enough fuel on the bike. Mid afternoon biscuit rampages? Didn’t eat enough proper food after a tough swim. Suddenly unbelievably grumpy? Actually, just hangry. It’s impossible to train hard and perform well without feeding yourself properly. For a couple of months now, I’ve enlisted the help of fitnaturally¬†to write me a custom food plan based around my working and training and it’s been great; it’s taught me a lot about the right foods to eat and when, with no horrible gloopy shakes, faddy foods or weird stuff, just lots of wholesome, nutritious food that’s genuinely really tasty. I’d thoroughly recommend it as an investment!

Chicken satay stir fry

I’ve had to be more organised than ever before
‘Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ might be lame and overused but it’s kinda true for iron training. Having the right kit ready to go, swim kit and meals packed up the night before early starts, and a clear plan for when my training’s going to get done has been vital- it all cuts down on the chances of me sacking off a session because I’ve run out of time- and saying that’s why you’ve missed a session to your coach is a bit embarrassing, frankly.

Rest days are important and to be respected
When I’m not training heavily, I don’t always appreciate why rest days are actually necessary. Since upping the volume so much though, I bloody LOVE my rest day each week. On Fridays, I only set one new PB ever- time from leaving work to being horizontal on the sofa in sweatpants (I’ve got it down to 38 minutes on a good day). No sneaking in extra miles for the sake of Strava, no ‘rest day’ gym classes, nothing, nil, nada. Rest is when the body absorbs the training and the magic happens. So plant your arse and enjoy actually seeing your OH for once!

Supportive people around you are a must
Speaking of which, I can’t imagine how ironman training would go without supportive people around you. James has been a godsend during my training- not batting an eyelid at me getting up early for swims, accepting that most weekend days I’ll be out training for a lot of it, and being realistic that a clean and tidy house isn’t top of my to do list at the moment. Likewise when I go home to see my parents, they accept that at some point I’ll be off out cycling or running, and are well used to the house being strewn with Lycra and trainers/inner tubes/water bottles.

What things has a focused training period for a big goal race taught you?

Adaptability and ironing

After my last blog, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was on a one way ticket to supreme fitness and surely a PB at my first race of the season, the Central Lancashire Half Marathon last weekend. I’d got in some decent runs and my legs were feeling pretty strong from cycling, but alas it was not to be.

A few days after my Christmas century ride, I became steadily more ill with what turned out to be a chest infection, and even though doctors make terrible patients, even I knew running was out of the question. So I did nothing. I took a week off, diligently took my antibiotics and focused all my energy on getting better. When I could breathe again without coughing and was feeling much better, I headed out to test the waters, but not with a full pelt launch back into training- with a steady run with a Buff over my face (top tip to warm and humidify chilly air before it hits your chest and makes you cough).

Happily, it went fine, but rather than attempting a full gas half marathon effort just a few days later, I adapted the plan. Instead of racing, I joined a friend nursing sciatica round for a steadier run, chatting the whole way round and enjoying a leg stretch, though still finishing in a respectable 1.52 and scooping a MASSIVE first race medal of the season. A PB effort can wait until Brighton Half in February!

CentralLancs

 

At first, I was gutted to miss an opportunity to get a PB I’d secretly been hoping for, but until June, it’s all about seeing the bigger picture- wise words from Drewbies definitely spring to mind about how whilst you’re training for it, the iron distance tri needs to be your priority. Other races are fun to do as B goals along the way, but they’re just that- small goals to help motivate training, not to race at all costs and cause you setbacks.

So, happily, after a steady run around that half, a mahoosive medal to start the year’s collection and an easy week to get going with training again, I am positively raring to go. There’s ironing to be done!

Ironing: in the beginning

Four weeks out of six months is a pretty small proportion, so it’s probably pretty premature to be writing about how training for The Lakesman is going, but I feel like a great deal has happened already, and most of it for the better.

As I talked about here, I’ve enlisted the help of Chris to structure my training for me, and make sure I’m doing enough but not too much, hold me accountable and properly structure my training to get me where I need to be. Number one on the agenda was to go and have my stroke analysed by him, so I could do the appropriate drills.

EndlessPool4After almost a month of hammering out my drills, plodding patiently up and down the pool with my fins on, I can already see the benefit: doing sessions tailored to me, and doing sessions consistently, have left me swimming a bit quicker for less effort than I was before, which is really encouraging for those 6am starts in the pool and endless hair tangles.

Next on my list was setting training zones/paces for all of the disciplines, something I’d been secretly dreading ever since Chris explained how we’d set training paces for swim, bike and run: for swim, some CSS (Critical Swim Speed tests); for bike, maximum heart rate tests on the turbo; and for run, a flat out parkrun. Gulp. I can always plod at a sensible pace for hours and hours, but the thing I have always struggled with is flogging myself at my limits of pace, so I was NOT looking forward to these sessions.

MaxTurbo

Happily though, I’m writing from the other side of them.

CSS tests, it turns out, aren’t a whole barrel of fun. After warming up, they involve swimming 400m as fast as you can, resting a bit, and then smashing out a 200m as fast as you can. That pace is then used to generate your training speeds for different swim reps, to develop speed for racing. All I will say is that when your lane buddy knows you’re doing a CSS test purely by the look on your face, you know you’ve worked hard! One down….

My favourite of the tests was, as you’d expect, the running pace test. I chose to do it at my favourite parkrun, where handily, there were pacers on. I secretly wanted to try for a PB (sub 22:51), so planned to set off with the 23 minute pacer and leave him at about 4K to sneak under the time. What happened in reality was that I got excited, set off like a bat out of hell, overtook the pacer 200m in and then had to cling on for grim death. My instructions were to try as hard as I could, so I was really proud when on the finishing straight I felt like Jonny Brownlee staggering in the Mexican heat, and arrived at a new PB of 22:31. Job done!

Finally?

A max heart rate test on the turbo, involving 5 and 20 minute efforts, deliberately designed to push my heart to its maximum capacity and keep it there. It was, quite possibly, the longest 20 minutes of my life. But by the time I’d accumulated a large puddle of sweat on the bike room floor, ruined mascara and no breath to do anything but gasp, I was done- with one very neat heart rate graph to show for it.

TurboHR

So aside from a very unattractive selfie, the point of this post was that the first few weeks of Lakesman training have reinforced more strongly than ever that there are no shortcuts to achieving what I want to: just a LOT of hard work, and having the faith that I can push through sessions I think I can’t. Now to keep the momentum going and use those zones to put in the hard yards through the rest of winter!

Inspiration in the age of ‘influencers’

Anyone who knows me well will know that telling me to do something means I will probably want to do the opposite. Tell me I can’t do something, and I’ll be hellbent on doing it just to prove you wrong. The same goes for inspiration in life and in sport; tell me who I should find inspiring, and I’ll likely not find them that inspiring after all.

In the culture of social media ‘influencers’, I’m finding it’s becoming increasingly more, for me, about finding my own inspiration. About looking at the women out there who are doing amazing things in their free time, and looking to them for inspiration. For me, inspiration doesn’t come from watching a full-time, heavily sponsored influencer going on ‘adventures’. It comes from looking to those with full-time jobs, or very busy lives, still managing to carve their own path and take on the challenges they want to. Who cram in early mornings and late nights on the path to achievement, when life puts endless hurdles in the way. Who don’t fill their Instagram feeds with laughably fake posed running shots, but photos of them, unfiltered and taking on massive personal challenges in all their glory.

So, I wanted to round up in this post a few women who I genuinely find inspiring, who motivate me when I’m struggling to motivate myself, and whose discipline I definitely need to catch in the run up to next year’s Lakesman iron-distance.

Cathy Drew
Whether it’s her first ironman or a speedy marathon PB, I really admire Cathy’s approach to sport; carefully, thoughtfully selecting a challenge, and then throwing herself in headfirst. She publicly commits, and shows no shame in trying¬†and respecting the distances she races.¬†I can’t think of anybody more disciplined or determined, and seeing her succeed over the past couple of years has really redefined what I feel like is possible for me. I challenge anyone to read her blog and not be a little bit inspired!

Photo taken from Cathy's blog.

Photo taken from Cathy’s blog.

Emily Favret
Like Cathy, Emily¬†well and truly grabbed the bull by the horns training for her first ironman in Austria over winter, and by hard work and dedication alone, has gone from a reluctant swimmer to boss iron lady, having to overcome illness, terrible weather and seemingly a whole winter of headwind on the bike. Another iron lady I’ll be adding to my mental list of role models- and if she ever starts a blog, it’ll be top of my reading list.

Cat Simpson
It’d be hard to write a list of women who inspire me without including Cat. Her amazing running feats like the Atacama Crossing and the SDW100 are obviously hugely inspiring, but more than that, I think she’s a great role model, even for those unlikely to ever run an ultramarathon. In a world of social media that can be a bit ‘up themselves’, Cat is refreshingly honest about the ups and downs of training and racing, and ever-eager to help others through her coaching business and less formally. She’s also a great team-mate for 24 hour relay racing!

Photo taken from Cat's blog.

Photo taken from Cat’s blog.

Rhianon West
I have nothing but respect for Rhianon. After watching Cat conquer the Atacama Crossing, Rhianon signed up, after a couple of years of good running blighted by periods of injury. Even though it terrified her, she signed up a year ago, and committed everything she had to the race, despite a busy full-time job. When there weren’t enough hills in her area, she ran up and down her office stairs for hours on end before work. She ran marathons and ultras in the build up, but everything for a year was focused on Atacama. When the time came, she took herself and her dragon-emblazoned kit over to Chile and absolutely nailed it- even when it was tough, she just ploughed on to an amazing placing.

Photo from Rhianon's Twitter.

Photo from Rhianon’s Twitter.

Claire Shea-Simonds
To succeed in her sport (Ironman racing), Claire shows incredible drive and discipline. Working full-time and doing postgrad study, she also puts in a training volume that would put certain ‘influencers’ to shame, and is not afraid of the graft and the grind. She doesn’t talk herself up or overplay her abilities, and is very funny online and in person- but then goes to some of the most difficult Ironman races on the circuit, performs consistently and now has 3 Kona slots to her name. What a woman!

Photo taken from Claire's Twitter.

Photo taken from Claire’s Twitter.

At the end of the day, what somebody finds inspiring is down to their outlook on life, but I think these women are 100% more inspiring than somebody whose only responsibility is a carefully curated Instagram account and who is handed their opportunities on a plate rather than fighting them. These are the kind of women I choose to surround myself with, and I’m so much the better for it.

Pilates with Pink Lady Core

Strength and conditioning is something I will openly admit to being very bad at being bothered to do. When I’m short of time, I end up prioritising fitting the miles in over keeping myself strong for the miles, and tend to avoid injuries more by luck and rest than good management!

That needs to change with the Lakesman on the horizon, but I want to make sure what I’m doing is tailored to, and appropriate for me, so when Pink Lady, official apple of the London Marathon, got in touch and offered me a one-to-one Pilates class as part of their Pink Lady¬†Core project (I love a good pun, me), I snatched their hand off.

My class was held at the swanky L1 Performance in Leeds, where I was paired up with the lovely Ria. To get the most out of my session, I filled in a questionnaire before the class, so it could be prepared personally for me, with me hoping it would be a good way to learn how to work on my postural stability and functional core strength without adding unnecessary bulk to my frame.

Pink Lady CoreAfter some initial mobility exercises so Ria could assess my body’s patterns of movement, we went through some Pilates exercises that were most likely to be relevant to me, with a focus on how they would be useful for triathlon, and focusing on performing the exercises with correct posture and muscle engagement- a focus that I’ve never had in group classes, and something I really liked about having a one-to-one class.

Pink Lady Core

I then received my ‘homework’ from Ria- a really detailed set of exercises, with personal cues for how to keep my form correct. I’m hoping that by incorporating a regular Pilates session in my routine during training, I’ll see my functional and core strength improve, as well as my posture during long days on my feet at work- I’m keen to develop better posture and protect my back, as well as develop strength for sport.

Pink Lady CoreIf you’re keen to do some Pilates for yourself that might help your running, Pink Lady Core have a Youtube channel with easy videos to do at home.

Pink Lady Core provided me with my one-to-one class with Ria free of charge and reimbursed me for my time in attending the class and writing this post. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

Doing the work

The few triathlons I’ve done so far, and in fact, races in general, have taught me that knowing the theory of how they should work isn’t enough. Endless time spent poring over footage of elite athletes, reading endless articles and blogs, and spending money on lovely new kit and gadgets are all very well, but they won’t necessarily make me perform better.

CastleTriSwim

There’s a lot of talk around how we should only do exercise and training sessions that we actually¬†want¬†to do. To an extent, I agree. The thing is though, I really love the feeling of swimming quickly, gliding smoothly through the water. Without putting in the work though, it doesn’t happen and I’m left aimlessly windmilling my arms, tiring myself out and going absolutely nowhere. If I relied purely on motivation to improve my performance in sport, I wouldn’t get very far: I’m only human, and motivation waxes and wanes like the weather varies throughout a British summer.

So what’s more reliable than motivation? Discipline.

The friends I have who succeed in sport (looking at you, Cat and Cathy) aren’t necessarily the most motivated ones: they’re the most disciplined ones. Whether or not they want to do the session that day, they are disciplined enough to know that it’s necessary to produce the performance they’d like.

So that’s how I’m working on my swimming at the moment. I¬†want¬†to be gliding smoothly and quickly through the water in my next race. I currently¬†do¬†swim like an arthritic frog with panicky arms. So I’m being disciplined and doing the things I don’t always want to- doing the work.

WharfeSwim

I assumed swimming club sessions wouldn’t be for me, that I’d be laughed out of there, but I’ve been to two now, amongst a lot of solo sets to work on my weaknesses and I’ve loved them; they’ve been jovial and welcoming, but seriously hard work, with technically challenging drills, all-out sprints and long sets to push me right out of my comfort zone. And you know what? It works. I’ve made bigger leaps in the past month with my swimming than I have done in a couple of years, and it’s not down to reading about technique or buying new kit.

It’s about consistently doing the work. Food for thought there.

 

Marathon recovery

Recovery is a very personal thing; that much is obvious to anyone who does endurance sport. Whether it’s the recovery needed between reps on a track, or recovery after an A race, it’s a very personal thing.

After running the London Marathon two weeks ago, I was in massive need of some good recovery time. I raced carrying an illness (FYI, not something I would ever advocate as a doctor, but we do make the worst patients), and had a really tough time of it. Afterwards, my cough came back with a vengeance, I was utterly knackered and absolutely everything hurt.

Fairly soon, my Strava filled up with people going for ‘recovery runs’ with their clubs barely slower than their marathon race pace only days earlier. My Twitter and Instagram was filled with selfies of runners out showing off their race tshirts. Have they all recovered spectacularly quickly?! Are they clearly a lot fitter than me?! These were the thoughts I initially had.

On reflection though, I remembered that recovery is far more important than most people give it credit for, so I focused on doing my own thing. On not running a single step until my body felt ready and I really wanted to; something I think is very underestimated but pretty important in recovery from a big race- not starting training again until you feel the need to train coming back. Until you feel ready.
recovery

So what have the past two weeks involved for me? A full week initially where other than work, I did nothing taxing. I had plenty of hot baths (Radox Muscle Therapy, you are a bath soak of dreams), and gave my legs, particularly my battered quads, some gentle massage. I did some of the easiest Jasyoga videos and really focused on how my body felt during them. I ate well, focusing on balanced meals, with plenty of protein and carbs, and the odd treat in there, because 4 months of training and a marathon is a long slog. I also watched a LOT of TV. Hello new Game of Thrones! As far as I can when working, I prioritised sleep too.

recoveryrecovery

This week, I was itching to get moving again, but I made sure I did it gently. An easy spin on the bike out to my favourite cafe for lunch with James. A 20 minute easy jog around my village, focusing on just enjoying it. A welcome return to my favourite club ride out to Bolton Abbey for coffee. All things I wanted to do (especially with a new bike begging for a test ride), and none of them with any pressure on pace, or distance, or anything but fresh air and enjoyment. And you know what? It’s made me hungry to get out there and back into proper training now.
recovery

All these things are underrated, but reading more into recovery and how elite athletes do it, these are the small things that add up, and keep the fire for training and self-improvement burning, rather than burning out halfway through every season because the athletes have completely overdone it. It’s how other than odd niggles that have required a bit of rest and extra attention, I haven’t had a proper injury for over two years now.

There’s a lot to be said for recovery, and I think it’s an underrated art.

I’m a woman & the Government thinks I’m collateral damage

‘You’re bossing it, as a woman in medicine and a woman in sport’.

‘You’re holding down a tough job, a relationship and demanding training at the same time.’

‘You’re a superhero.’

All things that have been said to me reasonably recently, by friends, colleagues and blog readers. On the surface, I’m doing well, but I’ve definitely been pretending to myself and everyone else that everything in the garden is rosy.

IMG_3595

Being a young female doctor, and trying to hold down a house, relationship and some kind of training regime, feels overwhelming almost all of the time. The only way I can try to describe it is feeling like I have many, many plates spinning at the same time, and to keep them all spinning takes divided attention and never giving any of them my full focus.

If I focus on one properly, I hear the sound of several others crashing to the floor. In a society that buzzes from being busy, and a workplace culture where long, stressful hours are the norm, it’s taboo to say you’re struggling.

As a doctor, you are the problem solver. You come on shift, and a pager is attached to your person. Whenever it bleeps, you’re obliged to answer, whether it’s the first hour of the shift or your twelfth. Whether you’re free or whether you’re so overwhelmed with jobs to do that you feel like screaming. Now, now, now, everybody’s demands flow in. This discharge note needs writing NOW, the man in Bed 6 needs a new IV line for his 6pm meds NOW, this patient is becoming unwell and needs you NOW, this electronic system needs updating NOW so we don’t fail our audit, come NOW because your alcoholic patient is having a withdrawal seizure. A calm, polite manner is expected at all times as you race from ward to ward to get things done.

Everybody is busy and everybody is overworked, but we do it because we want to care for our patients. We have a brief cry shut in a bathroom or linen cupboard, and then we carry on. We ignore our failing kidneys and aching, hungry stomachs because patients need us. We work past our shift finishing times, because if you’re walking out and a relative needs to speak to a doctor about their loved one, or somebody stops breathing, it’s a vocation not a job, and you can’t just leave. Goodwill oils the wheels of the NHS to keep turning in the face of ever-increasing demand and decreasing funding.

Almost as soon as I started my career last August, it became clear that the Government’s contract reforms were bad news. We took to the streets in our thousands up and down the country to protest against fundamentally unsafe new contracts for doctors. When they didn’t listen, 98% of us voted to take industrial action to make them take note, and next week, the fourth 48 hour doctors strike is set to go ahead. In spite of all this, the Government is imposing these contracts on us anyway. An Equality Impact Assessment was carried out after concerns were raised about the unfair nature of the new contract, and the report this week was released, with repetitive use of an absolutely staggering phrase.

‘In summary, whilst there are features of the new contract that impact disproportionately against women, of which we expect some to be advantageous and others disadvantageous, we do not consider that this would amount to direct discrimination as the impacts can be comfortably justified… Any indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’

That’s right. Because I am female and a doctor, I am viewed as collateral damage to the greater good by the Government in their mission to reform doctors contracts to make us cover more hours for less pay.

Since last August, I have been becoming steadily more disillusioned. I have worked up to 90 hour weeks on occasion, sacrificing sleep, mealtimes and social contact to keep patients safe on grossly understaffed rotas. I have missed family occasions, seeing friends, and keeping myself fit and healthy because I was on an inflexible, unfair rota. I am now at a point where my enthusiasm and goodwill has gone. My motivation to do the extra things required of doctors in their free time, such as keeping a professional portfolio, carrying out audit work and attending courses and seminars has gone. 8 months into this job, and I’m considering leaving, as a direct result of the new contract; I’m already stretched to my limit, and have nothing more to give.

Last night, for the first time, all of this overwhelmed me so much, I sat and cried. Cried for the future career that’s shrouded in uncertainty, the not knowing where I will live or work at the end of this year, or whether I will even be a doctor any more.

At 23, I have dealt with more terrifying, emotionally demanding, horrendous situations than any of the Tory ministers imposing this new contract on me, but that counts for nothing. It counts for nothing to them, because I was unfortunate to be born with a pair of ovaries and not a pair of testicles. Because if I want to be a parent, it’s me that will need to take maternity leave, and God forbid, if I become a single parent, it’s me who will need to look after my child. The light at the end of the tunnel was a stable, financially secure job at the end of medical school and my first couple of years in medicine, and that light is going out, as thousands of doctors make the necessary arrangements to leave England if these contracts come in, me included.

I’m Sarah, I’m 23 and I’m a junior doctor; and I don’t think I can do this any more.